Verse 36. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies. Does not this prayer appear to be superfluous, since it is evident that the Psalmist's heart was set upon obedience? We are sure that there is never a word to spare in Scripture. After asking for active virtue it was meet that the man of God should beg that his heart might be in all that he did. What would his goings be if his heart did not go? It may be that David felt a wandering desire, an inordinate leaning of his soul to worldly gain, -- possibly it even intruded into his most devout meditations, and at once he cried out for more grace. The only way to cure a wrong leaning is to have the soul bent in the opposite direction. Holiness of heart is the cure for covetousness. What a blessing it is that we may ask the Lord even for an inclination. Our wills are free, and yet without violating their liberty, grace can incline us in the right direction. This can be done by enlightening the understanding as to the excellence of obedience, by strengthening our habits of virtue, by giving us an experience of the sweetness of piety, and by many other ways. If any one duty is irksome to us it behooves us to offer this player with special reference thereto: we are to love all the Lord's testimonies, and if we fail in any one point we must pay double attention to it. The learning of the heart is the way in which the life will lean: hence the force of the petition, "Incline my heart." Happy shall we be when we feel habitually inclined to all that is good. This is not the way in which a carnal heart ever leans; all its inclinations are in opposition to the divine testimonies.
And not to covetousness. This is the inclination of nature, and grace must put a negative upon it. This vice is as injurious as it is common; it is as mean as it is miserable. It is idolatry, and so it dethrones God; it is selfishness, and so it is cruel to all in its power; it is sordid greed, and so it would sell the Lord himself for pieces of silver. It is a degrading, grovelling, hardening, deadening sin, which withers everything around it that is lovely and Christlike. He who is covetous is of the race of Judas, and will in all probability turn out to be himself a son of perdition. The crime of covetousness is common, but very few will confess it; for when a man heaps up gold in his heart, the dust of it blows into his eyes, and he cannot see his own fault. Our hearts must have some object of desire, and the only way to keep out worldly gain is to put in its place the testimonies of the Lord. If we are inclined or bent one way, we shall be turned from the other: the negative virtue is most surely attained by making sure of the positive grace which inevitably produces it.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 36. THE WORD SET BEFORE THE HEART. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies. It is nothing for the eyes to see, for the mind to understand, nor even for the feet to be made to go in the way of truth, if the heart be not inclined thereunto also. It is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness. To be without love is, according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 , to be without everything.
Thus the sense of these four methodical petitions in this section is as follows: Make me to see, make me to understand, make me to go in, and make me to love to go in, the beaten and narrow path of thy testimonies. So far as I gather, Luther gives almost the exact sense of the foregoing exposition; for he translates the opening words of Psalms 119:33 - 36 by terms signifying respectively, "Point out to me," "Explain to me," "Lead me," and "Incline (bend, slope) my heart," etc.
Verse 36. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. We must be convinced that covetousness, I mean that our covetousness, is vice; for it holds something of a virtue, of frugality, which is not to that which one hath: and this makes us entertain thoughts that it is no vice; and we often say that it is good to be a little worldly; a little covetousness we like well; which shows that we do not indeed and in heart, hold it to be a sin. For if sin be naught, a little of sin cannot be good. As good say, a little poison were good, so it be not too much. And so we find, that men will rate at their children for spending, and are ready to turn them of doors, if they be given unto waste; but if they be near and pinching then we like that too much; and I scarce know a man who doth use to call upon his children that they spare not, save not. I know youth is rather addicted the other way, and is more subject to waste and consume, by that the natural heat is quick and active in them; and therefore there is more fear and danger that they prove prodigal and turn and therefore the more may be said and done that way to youth. But the thing I press is, that in case we see our children in their youth to begin to be covetous and worldly, we call them good husbands, and are but too to see it so, and are too much pleased with them for it. Little do think that worldliness is a most guilty sin in respect of God, and hurtful in respect of men. Hark what the word of God saith of it, Ephesians 5:5 : It is idolatry, and idolatry is the first sin of the first table. It is the root of all evils, 1 Timothy 6:10 . There is no evil but a worldly man do it to save his purse. Thus David: "Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness": he saith not, this or that testimony, but (as including all the laws of God) he saith "testimonies"; to show us covetousness draws us away, not from some only, but from all God's commandments. So St. Paul: where covetousness is, there are "many lusts," 1 Timothy 6:9 , and "many sorrows," 1 Timothy 6:10 . "It drowns men in perdition and destruction," 1 Timothy 6:9 . And the Greek word signifies such a drowning as is almost past all hope and recovery. It is the bane all society: men cry out of it, because they would have none covetous, rich but themselves. A hater he is of mankind; he hates all poor, they would beg something of him; and all rich, because they have which he would have. A covetous man would have all that all have. Thus speaks a noble father (Chrysostom). Such believe not the word, they trust neither nor man. For he that trusts not God, cannot trust man. It robs God that confidence we should have in him, and dependence we owe unto him it turns a man from all the commandments. Hence the prophet prays God to turn his heart to his commandments, "and not to covetousness." For not only we ought not, but as the phrase is, "we cannot serve God mammon," Luke 16:13 . Richard Capel, in "Tentations: their Danger, Cure." 1655.
Verse 36. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Without a restraining hand the heart is prone to turn aside into the byways of petty love of pelf. The remedy must be from above. Heavenly aid is therefore sought. Henry Law.
Verse 36. Incline my heart. Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, "Incline my heart." It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts, and wholly rebellious until God by his grace change them. John Calvin.
Verse 36. Incline my heart. In the former verses David had asked understanding and direction to know the Lord's will; now he asketh an inclination of heart to do the Lord's will. The understanding needs not only to be enlightened, but the will to be moved and changed. Man's heart is of its own accord averse from God and holiness, even then when the wit is most refined, and the understanding is stocked and stored with high notions about it: therefore David doth not only say, "Give me understanding," but, "Incline my heart." We can be worldly of ourselves, but we cannot be holy and heavenly of ourselves; that must be asked of him who is the Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift. They that plead for the power of nature, shut out the use of prayer. But Austin hath said well, Naturn vera confessione non falsa defersione opus habet: we need rather to confess our weakness, than defend our strength. Thus doth David, and so will every broken hearted Christian that hath had an experience of the inclinations of his own soul, he will come to God, and say, Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Thomas Manton.
Verse 36. Incline. Then shall I not decline. James G. Murphy.
Verse 36. Unto thy testimonies. The contrast is most striking. There are the divine testimonies on the one hand, and there is "covetousness" on the other. God stands on one side, the world on the other. The renewed man chooses between the two; he does not require long to think, and God is his choice. John Stephen.
Verse 36. Not to covetousness. He prays in particular that his heart may be diverted from covetousness, which is not only an evil, but as saith the Apostle, "the root of all evil." David here opposes it as an adversary to all the righteousness of God's testimonies: it inverts the order of nature, and makes the heavenly soul earthly. It is a handmaid of all sins; for there is no sin which a covetous man will not serve for his gain. We should beware of all sins, but specially of mother sins. William Cowper.
Verse 36. Covetousness, or rather, "gain unjustly acquired."... The Hebrew word [ck can only mean plunder, rapine, unjust gain. J. J. Stewart Perowne.
Verse 36. Covetousness. S. Bonaventura, on our Psalm, says Covetousness must be hated, shunned, put away: must be hated, because it attacks the life of nature: must be shunned, because it hinders the life of grace: must be put away, because it obstructs the life of glory. Clemens Alexandrinus says that covetousness is the citadel of the vices, and Ambrose says that it is the loss of the soul. Thomas Le Blanc.
Verse 36. Covetousness. I would observe to the reader, and desire him duly and seriously to consider, that although this commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," is placed the last in number, yet it is too often the first that is broken, man's covetous heart leading the van in transgression. William Crouch, in "The Enormous Sin of Covetousness detected," 1709.
Verse 36. Covetousness is an immoderate desire of riches, in which these vices concur. First, An excessive love of riches, and the fixing of our hearts upon them. Secondly, A resolution to become rich, either by lawful or unlawful means, 1 Timothy 6:9 . Thirdly, Too much haste in gathering riches, joined with impatience of any delay, Proverbs 28:20 Proverbs 28:22 , 20:21.
Fourthly, An insatiable appetite, which can never be satisfied; but when they have too much, they still desire more, and have never enough, Ecclesiastes 4:8 . Like the horseleech, Proverbs 30:15 ; the dropsy, and hell itself, Proverbs 27:20 . Fifthly, Miser like tenacity, whereby they refuse to communicate their goods, either for the use of others, or themselves. Sixthly, Cruelty. Proverbs 1:18-19 , exercised both in their unmercifulness and oppression of the poor. Covetousness is a most heinous vice; for it is idolatry, and the root of all evil, Colossians 3:5 1 Timothy 6:10 ; a pernicious thorn, that stifles all grace and chokes the seed of the word, Matthew 13:22 , and pierceth men through with many sorrows, 1 Timothy 6:10 , and drowns them in destruction and perdition. James Usher, 1580-1655.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 36. -- Holiness a cure for covetousness.
Verse 36,112. -- The Cooperation of the Divine and the Human in Salvation.